It’s February and almost Valentine’s Day so, I’ve been trying to write about love but, something about it just kept feeling…. off.
The thing is, I’ve have been reading a lot about whiteness lately and I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated and angry with it. Now, when I say whiteness, I don’t mean actual people with light skin (though we are the ones who benefit from whiteness.) I mean the social construct that prioritizes white features, people, behaviors, history and, attitudes over those of indigenous people and people of other races. (info here)
I know that the vast majority of the people who will read this are white and female. How do I know that? Because I’m white and female and those are the circles I run in. Over the past few months I’ve really been looking at my community as a whole. For clarification: when I say community, I’m including both my social community and my recovery community (though there’s a lot of overlap.) Those two communities are made up of people I interact with in person and people I interact with online through social media or other forms of digital communication. In my communities I see so much love and opportunity and support and…. well…. whiteness.
We are overwhelmingly white.
I am not saying that being white = bad. What I am saying is that being white, especially white and middle class, comes with privileges and with privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility of making sure we hold space for others to be able to express their concerns and frustrations. The responsibility to fight for equal treatment, justice and, rights for everyone who lives in our country. The responsibility to call out racism when we see it, whether it’s blatant or subtle. We have a responsibility.
I grew up in New Hampshire and I currently live in Oregon, to say that neither of these states are super racially diverse would be an understatement. Being surrounded by people who look like me and who have had similar life experiences as me has been my way of life and, quite possibly, if I wasn’t gay, I may not be as sensitive and awake to the disparities created by whiteness.
As a gay lady, I’m more than aware of the coded language people use to try and disguise their homophobia. I know what it feels like to be profiled and discriminated against. I know. But, I don’t. While there are a lot of commonalities between the treatment that the LGBTQ+ community receives and all communities of color receive, the fact remains that white queer and trans people still have the comfort and safety of their whiteness in everyday life.
Listen, I’m not saying that queerness or transness is a cake walk. What I am saying is that, my life as a sober, white, lesbian, cis woman is different than the life of a sober, black, lesbian, cis woman. It just is. It is very unlikely that a police officer will shoot me. It is unlikely (especially now that I’m an adult) that I will be followed in a store because people assume I am going to steal something. It is unlikely that I will be judged as angry or hostile simply for expressing my feelings in an honest way. It is unlikely that my character will be judged based on what I look like. I could go on and on and on about the things that I will probably never have to deal with that my black counterpart would.
This is why we need to work to dismantle the idea that white, cis and, heterosexual are normal and anything outside of those categories comes second (or third, or fourth, …. or last.) Normal doesn’t exist. Humanity is a spectrum and everyone on that spectrum is valuable and worthy of love and respect.
Do I have any idea how to dismantle a value system that has literally been in place since before the United States was even an country?
BUT I know the way to start anything is to talk about it and bring it into the open. Once you aware and can see these things, you can’t un-see them.
So. What AM I doing while I figure out how to dismantle whiteness and create a more intersectional community? Here’s a little list of the things I do daily and information I seek on a regular basis:
- Listen to people of color. Not only do I listen when people of color are pointing out injustices and racism in everyday life and on social media but, I make a point to listen to as many racially diverse podcasts as possible. Some of my favorites are (in order of shortest average running time to longest): Code Switch (here), The Mash-Up Americans (here), On One with Angela Rye (here), Bodega Boys (here) and, The Read (here). Heads up – The last two are pop culture and comedy podcasts (The Read is also hosted by two queer people – BONUS!) and I have not heard one episode of either podcast that’s kid (or work) appropriate.
- Be aware of the language and imagery I use. Example: Something feels off to me about using the word tribe. Before you come at me for this one, I KNOW tribes were not invented by Native Americans or Africans or any other kind of marginalized indigenous community. BUT – that doesn’t change the fact that it gives me an icky feeling, especially when Native American imagery and patterns in fashion are so popular right now and are often used in conjunction with this word. It’s just as easy to say “I’ve found my people” as it is to say “I’ve found my tribe” and, the word people doesn’t (intentionally or not) perpetuate the habit of appropriating words and art and fashion of non-white communities. And – while we’re at it, stop using the term spirit animal (read this). Just stop.
- Read as much as I can. I love to read books and blogs by people of color and of white people who are also working on trying to figure out how to dismantle whiteness. Rachael Rice has a great post (and video) about this. (check it out here)
- Remember that not everything is for me. I can enjoy art and music made by and for people of color but, that doesn’t mean that it’s FOR me. When I say that I mean that language and fashion and hair styles in certain songs and movies and podcasts might be things I admire but, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for me to say or wear those things. This one might be easier for me, as a gay lady, to put into practice than others because I know how I feel when the heteros try to use the language of my queer family — I can say dyke all I want but, I better not catch a straight person saying it!
- Remember that not everyone is starting from the same place. This is the most important one of all. We, as humans, often only rely on ourselves as a point of reference in everyone else’s ability to complete a task. But, when we’re able to listen to other people’s experiences, we can see that not everyone has the same starting point in the race that is life. How are the children in poor families supposed to compete academically with the children in upper middle class families when the children in the poor families may not have access to enough food or the internet or clothes that fit and are weather appropriate or are unable to access adequate healthcare? We need to ensure that we are not striving for equality but, for equity. In equality we give everyone the same thing. To keep with the kids in school analogy, this would mean that we gave all of the kids in the class the same textbooks and composition notebooks and syllabus. In equity, we would give everyone all of those things AND we’d ensure the poor kids also got pencils and pens to write in their composition notebook, that they had access to the internet in order to do the research needed for the assignments on the syllabus, that they have breakfast and lunch (and possibly dinner) provided for them so they are able to concentrate on their textbooks during class and not on how hungry they are. Equity is giving people a boost in order allow them to start where the majority is expected to start. We should all be striving for equity.
Listen – I am not an expert on any of this in any way what so ever and I’m sure I have or will say the wrong thing in this conversation but, it is so important to me that we talk about this, I’m willing to chance saying the wrong thing and need to go back to correct myself later. I am willing to feel uncomfortable in order to make sure other people have the opportunity to learn something new, whether it’s from my successes or my mistakes. All I want is for us to realize that what we say has meaning, what we do has meaning and, what we don’t do has meaning. This country needs intersectionality in order to stay viable, we need to ensure that our communities reflect the experiences and faces of everyone they intend to serve.
This is something that I will be coming back to because, it’s something that I think a lot of us want to know more about but don’t quite know where to start. And I challenge other members of the recovery community, ESPECIALLY the white, well-meaning, female, recovery community to really start looking at what we say and what we do – both to perpetuate whiteness and to dismantle it. We can’t take something down if we’re too fragile to recognize it in ourselves or if we’re too set in our “good intentions” to hear what impacted communities are saying to us.
Very few people intentionally perpetuate whiteness but, we can intentionally work to dismantle it.